Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Bible, Marriage, and IPV

I am absolutely not a biblical scholar. I am quite relieved that Catholicism is not a sola scriptura kind of gal for many reasons, but I understand and recognize the importance of sacred readings. Please keep this in mind as I write and dissect in this post!

One of my biggest pet peeves as a domestic and sexual violence advocate and as a Christian, is hearing folk profess loud and proud: "God hates (fill in the blank)!" To think that real, live, human people truly believe that the best way to spread the message of Christ and to evangelize/minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ is to start out by professing that our God (who is LOVE) "hates" something, is devastating. Not just to those hearing this message, but for all.

This subject had me so worked up, that I sat in my uncomfortable chair grumbling for a few days this past week. "No way the bible says hate." I told myself. So I looked it up on my handy dandy bible verse cheat sheet, and I see this:

So I pull out my NABRE study bible, flipped to the Old Testament, and prepared to see some sort of translation notes related to the original text to English. While I did not, I came to a greater understanding of the text. Here is the full text:

An interesting note in my study bible reads, "2:14 Companion...covenanted wife: the Hebrew word haberet signifies an equal, a partner. This woman, in contrast to the daughter of a foreign god, shares with her husband the same covenant with the Lord."

What I take away from this, is that Christian marriage is a partnership where both parties are equally responsible. A woman is equal to her man. I find myself less focused on the text "I hate divorce" and more focused on the message that marriage is a covenant and partnership

This quest lead me to want to give a more thorough review of other 'marriage' mentions in the bible. Cathsorority came through and linked me to a page that lists the options for readings during a Catholic wedding. What I found are some common themes that I want to share with you. (All New Testament excerpts.)

This first example relates to the "two become one" aspect of marriage, and comes from an instance where the Pharisees are trying to trick Christ into saying something blasphemous. It shows marriage as something to be taken seriously.  

Ephesians 5 is the reading that I was most familiar with before marriage, and it might be my least favorite if I am being totally honest with you. There is an extraordinarily large emphasis placed on the first portion of this reading in many traditional faiths: "Wives be subordinate!" with little commentary mentioning the reciprocating verse that asks husbands to love their wives "as Christ loved the Church." 

The problem with taking portions of this verse (and any verse) out of context, is that you lose important information and instruction. This is less a call for wifely subordination and dominating husbands, and more a call for mutual devotion. 

Even in times and cultures where women are not valued as equals partners in marriage or in society, this is a call for equality and sacrificial love. 

Do you see where this is going? The constant message in the bible as it relates to marriage, is love one another. The emphasis is continually placed on what God loves, not what God hates. So, let us apply this to intimate partner violence (IPV). (Note: The following lists are by no means comprehensive; more like a rough overview.)

According to these passages and the Catholic faith, marriage is:

-A sacrament. 
-A commitment/covenant/promise.
-Entered into by a man and a woman as equal, consenting partners. 

A relationship involving Intimate Partner Violence (IPV):

-Is consumed with power and control. 
-Gives one partner dominance over the other.
-Warps love.
-Is harmful and devastating to all involved. 

If we combine a sacramental marriage with the consequences of IPV, the relationship lacks some crucial ingredients. When we focus on the aftermath (divorce, separation, etc.) and not on the wrong doing or the warped interpretation of marriage, we are harming survivors. 

Recently, The FaithTrust Institute posted this article, which discusses the fact that religion is a reason that victims stay in abusive relationships. 

It can be very difficult for a devout person of faith to leave an abusive relationship. If you entered into a marriage honestly and with the understanding marriage is "death 'til you part," leaving feels like giving up. If you feel this doubt and it is encouraged by a faith community (both lay persons and pastors) that preach "God hates divorce!" without exception and without a deeper understanding of the context/complexities of marriage or IPV, you feel that there is no way out. You feel conflicted and guilty for not being able to hold up your end of the marriage, when in reality, the marriage was built unequal. The message appears to be "Divorce or Stay."

As Christians, we must have a deeper understanding of marriage as well as IPV. Marriage is not built on the standard cultural view of submission. Marriage was not created to hold one partner (and children) captive. Marriage is love, not abuse. Our faith community must not help abusers to hold their victims hostage.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hang in There!

Mass with children is hard. When I taught Totus Tuus, my first day on the job made me want to send thank you notes to every last one of my K-8 teachers that had to deal with around twenty of us squirmy kids in Mass. I have a heck of a time paying attention and focusing in Mass when I am alone, but when I am charged with helping children to gain something in Mass, I at least feel like I serve a purpose.

Now I have my own children. Call them stair-stepped or whatever you'd like: it is what it is. Calvin is a few months out from being five, Hattie just turned three, Frank is 17 months, and a baby will bring up the rear come mid-December. It is important to me that we attend Mass together, and not just because it is my one guaranteed workout in the week. I know the 90-minute Masses are tough on the little ones, because they are tough on me. There is no good time for a toddler to sit still for 90 minutes and not make a sound. We opt for the time most likely to provoke a nap. Sometimes we win. Today we did not.

Not even five minutes out of the parking lot.

Today was a rough Mass for Frank. He wanted to make noise, and move. He wanted to switch back and forth between mom and dad. He wanted to crawl under the pew. He wanted to touch the man in front of him. He mostly wanted to fall asleep, but there was just too much happening. He was trying. During the homily, I had him to a point where he was giggling, not screaming. I was trying to get him to be a bit happier so that the peaceful silence of a nap just might happen. Then I am tapped on the shoulder by an usher and asked to take my child to the cry room so that others around me are comfortable.

Before I could say my piece, my husband let him know in no uncertain terms that we were there as a family and would be staying as a family. I continued to work with Frank while they talked, but I just felt like crap.

I know that there are a dozen blog posts about giving parents some space on this issue, and a dozen written defending the rights of those without children to sit peacefully and enjoy Mass. I'd just like to take a moment to explain why it is so defeating to be asked to remove your child.

I can take the disapproving head shakes and stares. I can take the audible sighs and eye rolls. I wish that parents did not have to take it, but I can ignore it. I really hardly notice it anymore. When a parent is obviously trying to diffuse the situation, there is no reason to assume that they do not have their thumb on exactly what their plan of action might be. There is no reason to assume that they do not know exactly when and if leaving the pew is appropriate. To assume that you are a better judge of what that child needs in that moment than their parent, is an incorrect assumption.

I am not under any sort of obligation to bring my pack o' kids that are under the age of five to Mass, so why do we do it? We bring them because we want them to know that is our routine. We go to Mass together as a family. I don't want them to be seven, preparing for their First Communion, and not have any idea what happens in Mass. My husband and I also decided that we didn't want to create the habit of removing a child every time they get loud, because then the goal would be to make noise to get to leave Mass. We found that if we can endure a bit of fuss, they calm down again. We can't expect them to be perfectly still and silent.

I would like to note that our experience today has been the exception at this parish: we belong to a bustling, thriving, filled with children parish, with many toddlers that take turns being the loudest in the pack. In fact, one of the regular ushers and his mother sit next to us most Sundays, and have told us on many occasions that they enjoy watching families like ours grow up at Mass. (He will even come up behind our pew and diffuse Frank's fussiness with a rousing game of peek-a-boo if needed!) It is rare that we leave Mass without someone coming up to us and expressing their admiration of our family. We are really grateful for this support.

To all fellow parents: I feel ya. Every parent has the right to decide how to handle Mass time, and I know that there are many different choices to be made. Keep up the good work parents: I respect what you are doing because it is hard.

To all fellow parishioners: Bear with us! It is challenging to raise our children in the faith. It is a beast to teach them Mass etiquette, and I assure you that our little ones are doing the best they can manage. The end goal is for Mass to be as natural as any other part of their life, but it takes some time. Please be patient, and please don't ask us to leave.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Christianity And...

In the fourth grade, we read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Reading it and developing a play takes up most of my positive memories of the fourth grade. I have terrible stage apprehension, so looking back, I am mystified on how my teacher managed to convince me that I was the White Witch. I remember it being one of the first books that I really loved.

Surprisingly, I never picked up another book from the series. It was only in the past few months that I decided to read C.S. Lewis again, despite my admiration.

I have been slowly getting through The Screwtape Letters. This last chapter put into words a concept that I have been thinking about for the better part of a year at this point, so I wanted to share a particular passage:

What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call 'Christianity And'. You know-Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychological Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians, let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring. Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.

Despite the fact this book was written in 1942, it is hauntingly accurate and appropriate for our lives in 2014. So-called "modern times" ask us to cash in aspects of our faith that can be difficult to reconcile with what we are told by the world is the best for all. It feels as though we must qualify our faith in order to gain even the most strained acceptance, or "tolerance" from others.

My first post for Cathofeminism was essentially every frustration I had on the matter, pouring out onto the screen. As an advocate, I had felt as though I was estranged from both those that wanted to help survivors of intimate partner violence, and from members of my faith community. It wasn't that both groups were wrong, or that one was right and one was wrong. In fact, both sects had truth but are still unable to put differences aside and see that truth in action.

I do not have to be a Christian and a Feminist, or a Christian and a Humanist. My Catholic faith is enough to support all the 'ists' and 'isms' that are true. As the readings this Sunday reminded us: "...whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself."' (Rom 13:8-10)

I find this realization refreshing and a bit humorous in the face of a current Facebook circulation:

It isn't that the message is wrong. The war over what exactly our duty is to our brothers and sisters on this world have been waging for decades. Are we called to correct sin? Judge the sin and not the sinner? Proclaim it from the rooftops and be persistent in our mission to offer accountability? Or, should we love? Should our actions speak the volumes that others need to hear from us? Maybe both. Maybe neither. 

I don't know the right way to be Christian anymore than the next person, but I find that C.S. Lewis has a compelling point. Perhaps we are qualifying our faith to avoid being categorized with those that are not reflecting Christ's love from the inside of Christianity. Perhaps we qualify it to gain a degree of credibility with those that do not share a faith in Christ. No matter the reason, I am happy to be alive during the time of Pope Francis. He is a constant reminder for me to just show love. When your thoughts, words, and heart are in line with Christ's love, there is no inconsistency. There is no reason for Christianity And.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

No Tears.

I am going to go ahead and take a minute away from all the serious and worthwhile topics that I should be discussing here to share a first world problem.

I did not plan this whole school thing very well.

Calvin will be going to school two days a week, and one of those days is the morning after my late night with Jesus. Which also happened to be today.

In case you were wondering, it is a real treat to wake up before your alarm goes off. It is even better if it is the ear drum bursting screams of your four year old and two year old that pulls you out of your REM-less slumber before you have had a chance to shower and before the youngest should be awake.

Close your eyes. Imagine opening your bedroom door to see the four year old sitting on the two year old. He is wrenching her arm back at an odd angle and she has a death grip on what little hair he has, as he screams, "POOP SPIDER!" into her ear. More screaming drifts up the stairs and threatens to shatter the barely there window of time you will have to shower before the third terror  snowflake wakes up as he always does: sounding as though he is mid-Freddy Krueger nightmare. That is it. Back to your rooms, all of you, and so help me if you slam that door...

I tell you all this to preface the following statement:

I freaking love school.